24 March 2020

Seeing Stars in 3D: The New Horizons Parallax Program

Tod Lauer, NOAO

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is now almost 50 AU away from us as it leaves the solar system. At its location, the nearest stars have noticeably shifted from where they are seen on Earth. On 22-23 April, New Horizons will image the fields around Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359 to demonstrate the two stars’ relative shifts or "parallaxes" between the Earth and spacecraft vantage points. This is being done as a public engagement project.

The New Horizons science team had engaged several observatories to obtain simultaneous Earth-based imaging of the star fields, as well as alerting the community of amateur astronomers to the opportunity to compare their own images with those obtained by New Horizons. However, with the closing of many professional observatories in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we would like to more broadly encourage interested observers who can safely observe within their own self-isolation guidelines to consider imaging the fields around Wolf 359 and Proxima Centauri on 22-23 April.

Both stars can be observed with electronic cameras on 6” or larger telescopes. The New Horizons project will combine spacecraft and Earth-based images into stereo pairs to demonstrate the large parallaxes of the targeted stars. The public release of the stereo images and the results of the demonstration will be in May.

The public announcement of the New Horizons Parallax program is available along with observational details

We thank those who are able to become involved, and ask you to reach out to the New Horizons Parallax Project science team coordinator, Tod R. Lauer, lauer@noao.edu.